mandag 13. mai 2024

Ancient Wisdom

I read a lot on the Alexander Technique, both books and online. Sometimes I come across the claim that this or that is “ancient wisdom”. This makes me feel uneasy .

First of all, it is a logical fallacy: Appeal to tradition 

The fact that something is old does not mean it is true or good. Using fallacious arguments seriously weakens the credibility of the text and makes it appear unprofessional.

Alexander teachers who write about “ancient wisdom” naturally associates the expression with something positive. It is all too easy to find negative examples. A case in point is traditional Chinese medicine. It is a main driver for the extinction of rhinos, pangolins, and other species. Lately also causing problems for farmers and others relying on their donkeys for transport.

This is “ancient stupidity”. Ancient wisdom isn't always wise.

What is “ancient wisdom”? Very often it is used about something we have known is true for a very long time. Maybe common sense is a good substitute. We humans haven't changed that much over the last hundred thousand years. What is important in life has not in principle changed.

Of course, we tend today to overlook or underestimate the level of sophistication of ancient handicraft and technologies. In that respect, “modern” isn't always better either.

But all in all, science and technology have moved on. People who write about “ancient wisdom” would probably not go back to ancient times. I often see in books on the Alexander Technique an ambivalent attitude to science. On the one hand modern science, or western tradition is criticised. At the same time scientific research is used in support of the arguments presented. This self-contradiction can be interpreted as a sign of ignorance of scientific methods and seriously weakens the credibility of the text. (Penelope Easten's Twelve Fundamentals of Integrated Movement is a case in point).

Sometimes, this negativity against Western culture gives the impression of prejudice. The same thoughts presented about Eastern traditions would very likely be seen as racism. You can check this for yourself by reading the text, replacing Western with Eastern, and see how it makes you feel.

Ultimately, the use of expressions like "ancient wisdom" is a symptom of habits of thinking. In the Alexander Technique we strive to get rid of habits and come back to a more neutral state. In thinking about the technique and explaining it, this should mean being neutral and objective, as far as that is possible. The Alexander Technique literature shows us that we have some way to go.

Related blog posts
Craniosacral Therapy